Woody Herman – Woody Herman 1963 – The Swingin’est Big Band Ever – Phillips PHS 600-065 (1962)/ Speakers Corner Records (2007) 180-gram stereo audiophile vinyl, 37:01 *****:
(Woody Herman – clarinet; Bill Chase – trumpet; Paul Fontaine – trumpet; Dave Gale – trumpet; Ziggy Harrell – trumpet; Gerry Lamy – trumpet; Phil Wilson – trombone; Eddie Morgan – trombone; Jack Gale – trombone; Sal Nistico – saxophone; Larry Cavelli – saxophone; Gordon Brisker – saxophone; Gene Allen – saxophone; Nat Pierce – piano; Chuck Andrus – bass; Jake Hanna – drums)
Woody Herman came to prominence in the forties as a big band leader and arranger. Along with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw (not to mention Glenn Miller), the clarinet became a part of the swing jazz landscape. “Woodchopper’s Ball” (1939), “Laura” (1944) and the unforgettable “Caldonia” (1947) became hits and “The Herd” (Herman’s moniker for his various bands) would develop into a prestigious (1946 Band Of The Year for Downbeat, Metronome, Billboard and Esquire) ensemble. As the swing era faded, he was influenced by the emerging bebop influence. He commissioned arrangements from Dizzy Gillespie and hired Ralph Burns as staff arranger. Classical music intrigued Herman and his band performed Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto at Carnegie Hall.
Notable bandmates included Stan Getz, Shelly Manne, Gene Ammons, Zoot Simms, Davey Tough and Pete Candoli, among many others. The Second Herd, also known as the “Four Brothers Band,” garnered acclaim for their self-titled opus in 1947. Herman continued to record and tour with various band configurations into his eighties. His career was defined by an appreciation for fresh challenging arrangements.
By the sixties only Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Herman remained from the big band era. Woody Herman 1963 The Swingin’est Big Band Ever is a vital eight-track testament to the power of larger ensembles. Herman leads a group of upcoming (at least in 1962) soloists on classic and newer arrangements. In addition to the musicians, the “stars” of this album are the horn charts and band dynamics. Things get off to a rousing start on a cover of Joe Newman’s, “Mo-Lasses”. Full of swagger the unison horn play is effervescent. A smooth tenor saxophone (Sal Nistico) solo is followed by a piercing one on trumpet (Bill Chase). Herman gets into the act with his elegant, swing clarinet. Trombonist Phil Wilson takes over on the Ellington classic, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. Saxophone and trumpet counter leads are harmonic. These tunes have the ability to swing in these tight constructs. An original by Chase (“Camel Walk”) has some intricate horn charts and syncopation. Woods also shines on “It’s A Lonely Town (When You’re Not Around)” with a vampy run, and combines with trumpet gracefully.
Herman has always been inclined to blues music. “Blues For J.P.” is built on a tight piano groove by Nat Pierce that launch the horn counters. Bop vibes can be found on Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie”, as the band erupts in a frantic pace. The rhythm section (Pierce, Chuck Andrus/bass and Jake Hanna/drums) is cohesive. All of the material resonates with rhythmic ferocity.
The remixing of this album to 180-gram vinyl is state of the art. Precision engineering allows solos to emerge clearly from the layered horns. Volume modulation is delicately captured, even at hushed levels. To any big band devotee, this album is more than nostalgia…it is an artistic statement. For anyone unfamiliar with this genre, this is an opportunity to hear multi-faceted, instrumental jazz at its best. [Remember those articles early in the CD era about how digital reproduction could better handle the low frequencies and its other advantages vs. vinyl? Most of todays’ audiophile pressings show that’s not true if sufficient care is put into the remastering for vinyl…Ed.]
Side 1: Mo-Lasses; Blues For J.P.; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Tunin’In
Side 2: Sister Sadie; Sig Ep; It’s A Lonesome Old Town (When You’re Not Around); Camel Walk
The counterculture movie from the 60x